The Road Trip from Hell, Part One

The Road Trip from Hell, Part One June 8, 2011

In which the Ogre is stricken with plague and I find myself in a horror movie. 

Okay. I finally feel mentally and emotionally prepared enough to re-visit the worst. road. trip. ever., in order to share it with you.

Where did we leave off? Ah, yes, with my road trip quick takes. So there we were, driving peacefully into New Mexico in the sunset, feeling optimistic about reaching our goal the following day, planning on stopping in Gallup for dinner, then driving on to Albuquerque, spend the night in a hotel, and get back on the road bright and early.

My husband graciously acquiesced to a longer stop than planned, after I demanded politely requested that we feed the children and ourselves something other than fast food. So we ate at Cracker Barrel. He had never been before and neither had the kids, and I hadn’t been since I was a kid myself. It was just as down-home and delicious as I remember, and the four fluffy, dreamy, white-on-white biscuits I devoured with butter and jam were everything I’d hoped they would be. Even the kids ate pretty well, despite being endlessly distracted by the little triangular shaped games on the table, and they promptly fell asleep once we had piled back into the car for the 140 mile jaunt into Albuquerque.

We got to the hotel, checked in, tucked the girls into the pull-out sofa and climbed wearily into the heavenly king-sized bed ourselves. The Ogre, who had been planning to meet up with a friend in Albuquerque but whose meeting was cancelled and re-scheduled repeatedly due to delays, late starts, screaming Charlotte, and endless bathroom breaks, set about fifty alarms so that we would be sure to wake up in time to shower, pack up, and meet his friend for a coffee before setting on our merry way.

I knew something was wrong when I awoke to the Ogre standing in the middle of the hotel room, swearing. “It’s 9:30!” he cried, exasperated. The exact time at which he had planned to meet his friend. There was no way we’d be ready to leave for at least an hour, even if we all skipped showers and just performed perfunctory hygenic maintenance, so I told him to go ahead and get dressed and go himself, and I would pack up and shower and have us ready to go when he got back so we wouldn’t lose too much time.

After he shot out the door, distressed at having inconvenienced his friend yet again, I groggily set about showering, bathing the car-trip-sticky children, and re-packing our suitcases. It had been our third night in a row in a hotel room, and I thought longingly all the while of the lovely salt-water pool, shower and couch at my parent’s house that I would be mercifully taking to the very next morning.

Or so I thought.

The Ogre walked back in the door an hour and a half later, two cups of coffee in hand. He looked disheveled and exhausted, which I chalked up to his hasty exit. I finished zipping suitcases and gathering stray shoes as he showered, and when he got out I cheerily told him that I would go ahead and take the suitcases down to the car.

Then he came around the corner.

He looked awful. Truly, dreadfully, painfully awful. My husband doesn’t get sick often, and even when he does he rarely complains or succumbs to bed. But on this day, he sat weakly on the edge of the bed and mumbled, “I don’t feel so good.”

I grabbed the thermometer from my purse and ran it across his forehead. 100.5. Not good, but not dire. I offered to go get him some Tylenol and go ahead and drive. We should get as far as we can, I said. We need to try to make it today, especially if you’re getting sick. 

The Ogre stood up and said that he would get the Tylenol himself, and some Gatorade, and that hopefully the walk downstairs would help him feel better. So the kids played and I watched the history channel, trying to keep my mind off the fact that we were halfway through a road trip and my stoic husband was sick and would we ever make it to Texas or were we doomed to live out the rest of our lives shuffling through hotel rooms with easy highway access?

The Ogre returned half and hour later, and I knew right away that the walk downstairs had not, in fact, helped. He told me that he had booked the hotel for another night and stumbled over to the bed.

I have never seen my husband so sick. He could barely put one foot in front of the other. He was pale, his face was clammy, and he was shaking violently.

Alarmed, I gathered the kids and went downstairs to get him some gatorade and the Tylenol that he had forgotten, calling my dad in the process and filling him in on this new and exciting turn of events. He wonderfully covered our hotel room yet again, and I gathered what meagre supplies I could from the hotel gift shop to combat what appeared to be nothing less than the sudden onslaught of the plague.

Returning to the room, I discovered to my horror that the Ogre’s temperature had shot up to 102.5. I immediately gave him Tylenol, yanked the covers off the bed to keep him from swaddling up in them, and helped him sit up and drink some Gatorade. He literally could not hold the bottle to his lips. I kept the kids in the front room, occupied with a movie, and spent the next few hours bustling back and forth between keeping the poor, pent-up children from destroying the hotel room a la Led Zeppelin and trying to prevent my husband from going all Jacob’s Ladder on me.

After a few hours and a couple of doses of Tylenol and ibuprofen, the Ogre’s fever was down to a more reasonable 101 and he had stopped shaking and was sleeping peacefully, so I gathered the children and set off in search of an Olive Garden to get him the soup that he loves when he’s sick.

Who knew that Albuquerque is a complete labyrinth? Not I, I tell you. I innocently asked directions from the desk boy, who, for all his kindness, apparently isn’t aware of which city he lives in, because none of the streets he named actually exist. And believe me, I looked. I looked so hard that I took a wrong turn and ended up forty miles outside of Albuquerque, in some little backroads one-closed-gas-station town, and with my heart in my throat and visions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dancing in my head, I turned on road after random road, hoping that one would bring me somewhere near a highway. I didn’t even care which one. But all I saw were two-lane roads. Small two-lane roads. Dirt roads. Abandoned, dilapidated buildings with rusty signs hanging by one lone hinge.

I grew more alarmed as I began to realize that I would never be able to follow the random turns I had made back the way I had come. There was no one in sight. I had no idea where I was. Just rocks and hills and sun and endless, pointless, deserted roads. I thought about stopping to try to get the GPS device on my phone, which hadn’t been working the whole trip, to work, but I was afraid to stop the car. What if there was someone nearby, just out of sight, waiting for me to stop? I glanced at the gas gauge. We had thirty-two miles until we ran out of gas. My chest tightened. I looked in the rearview mirror at my two sleeping little ones and the big one in the back, happily watching the trees whiz past. The sun blazed off the asphalt and I squinted into it. There, in the distance, was a…sign? Was that a sign? Or…no…no…it couldn’t be. It…ohmygosh…a hitchhiker!

At that moment I let out a sob as paralyzing panic welled up within me. We were going to die. I knew it. We were going to die in a slaughterhouse, and the Ogre was going to die of fever alone in a hotel room in a strange city, and no one would ever know what happened to us. As I tried desperately to reassure Sienna that we weren’t lost while hysterically making a mental list of all the objects in the car that I could use as a weapon the clouds parted and there, in a beam of light just past the gaunt hitchhiker, twinkled a little blue “Highway 40” sign.

I have never thanked Our Lady of the Highways more profusely. As I turned onto the access road, the sight of a Mustang whizzing past caused such a profound wave of relief to wash over me that I nearly ran off the road. I pried my sweaty, cramped fingers off the steering wheel, wondered if my knuckles would ever again be any color but white, and then tried to steady my shaking hands enough to direct the steering wheel back to Albuquerque.

Stay tuned for part II, in which I discover the meaning of the phrase “retail therapy”.

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